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Social Wellness Month 2022: The Importance of Community Health Centers

Social Wellness Month 2022: The Importance of Community Health Centers

Community health centers serve over 28 million Americans in areas or populations underserved by medical care, and are one of the most valuable, effective tools we have in managing our nation's health care. Operated under the Health Center Program of the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), these clinics provide access to primary care by removing the barriers related to cost, geographics, location, and culture.

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What is a Community Health Center?

So what makes a community health center different from other care clinics? Health centers are largely about accessibility: increasing access to primary care by removing barriers to it. Health centers are community-based and patient-directed, helping to deliver quality health care despite economic, geographic, cultural, or linguistic barriers to it.

Community Health Centers:

  • Deliver high-quality primary care services that's both comprehensive and culturally competent (able to interact with people of different cultures despite barriers).
  • Deliver supportive services that increase access to care, such as health education, translation, and transportation.
  • Provide services regardless of a patient's ability to pay and charge for services on a sliding fee scale.
  • Are governed by patient-majority boards that are part of community-based organizations (including non-profit, faith-based, and tribal organizations).
  • Respond to the unique needs of a community with patient-centered and integrated care.
  • Deliver care to underserved areas and populations.

Community Health Care Center

Who Does a Health Center Serve?

Some of the most vulnerable populations in America are served by health centers. Over 28 million people, or 1 in 12 Americans, rely on a health-center for primary care. This includes:

  • 1 in 9 children in America, 17 years or younger.
  • 1 in 5 people in rural communities.
  • 1 in 3 people living below the poverty line.
  • Nearly 400,000 veterans.
  • More than 800,000 patients at school-based health centers.
  • Nearly 1 million agricultural workers.
  • About 4.5 million living in or near public housing.

The number of patients at health centers has risen to 28.3 million in 2018 (the most recent year we data for) from 9.6 million in 2000. That means the number of patients has nearly tripled in less than two decades!

Health centers account for one-quarter of all primary care visits for the lower-income population in America.

Health Care Center

Are Health Centers Effective?

Aside from helping underserved populations increase access to quality health care, community health centers also improve health outcomes above the national average for people with their conditions. In 2018:

  • 93 percent of health centers met or exceeded the CDC's Healthy People 2020 goals for one or more clinical quality measures.
  • 99 percent of health centers improved on CDC goals for one or more clinical quality measures.
  • 67 percent of health center patients with diabetes controlled their blood sugar levels, improving on the national average of 60 percent.
  • 63 percent of health care patients with hypertension controlled their blood pressure, exceeding the national average of 57 percent.

Health centers are cost effective. By focusing on primary and preventative care and increasing access to that care among lower-income populations, health centers generate $24 billion in annual medical savings.

Primary Care Services

How Do Health Centers Operate?

Health centers identify the needs of their community and work to reduce disparities in health care between different populations. This is done with:

  • Care management of patients with multiple health care needs.
  • Quality improvement practices such as health information technology.
  • Health education services.
  • Transportation services.
  • Translation services.
  • Federal grant funding from the Health Center Program.
  • Identifying specific community needs to effectively direct that funding as well as other operating funds.
  • Federally Qualified Health Center Prospective Payment System reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • Drug pricing discounts for pharmaceutical products.
  • Free vaccines for uninsured and underinsured children.
  • Assistance in finding primary care providers through the National Health Services Corps.

How Can I Help?

Become an advocate! Join the Health Center Advocacy Network for ideas and updates on how you can aid the mission of health centers through political engagement and spreading awareness.

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